Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Associate Professor Melissa O'Donnell

Main Campus
City East

Applications Close
08 Dec 2023

Study Level
PhD or Master of Research

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate

Tuition Fees:

All domestic students are eligible for a fee waiver. Find out more about fees and conditions.

Project Stipend:
32,500 p.a. available to domestic applicants only

About the project

Safe and Supported: The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021-2023 identified families with multiple and complex needs as a key priority group to support and improve outcomes for across Australia. 

This project will build a valuable national picture of families with multiple and complex needs and their service system involvement as well as the impact of early intervention services on child trajectories. 

Utilising linked administrative data this project will understand families with multiple and complex needs and identify when, where and how prevention and early intervention services can be targeted to support families with multiple and complex needs. This project aims to:

  • understand the typologies of families with multiple and complex needs and child protection system involvement who face intersecting risk factors (i.e. domestic and family violence, mental health problems, intergenerational trauma, alcohol and other drug use, criminal justice involvement, disability, poverty and housing insecurity).
  • investigate the longitudinal trajectories of system involvement and identify opportunities for enhanced prevention, points of early intervention and service planning.
  • determine the characteristics of families with complex needs and their interaction with the child protection system, developmentally at key transition points (e.g. prenatal, early childhood and emerging adulthood) and geographically (in urban, regional, rural, remote areas) to inform how to target service delivery. 

For the first time using linked administrative data across multiple Australian states, this project will generate evidence to support an understanding of families with multiple and complex needs and the impact of government approaches on trajectories of child protection system involvement. This will enable the identification of opportunities for service planning aligned with points of prevention and early intervention.

This PhD project is one part of a broader ARC funded discovery project, led by Associate Professor Melissa O'Donnell, which brings together three different jurisdictions linked data and three universities to understand families with multiple and complex needs, allowing the student to have exposure to and enhanced capacity to generate new knowledge across Australia to improve the lives of families with multiple and complex needs.

What you’ll do

In this project-based research degree, you will get the opportunity to conduct real world relevant research utilising linked data and work alongside an experienced team of researchers across three jurisdictions and universities as a part of the broader ARC Discovery project. The candidate will have opportunities to engage with the academic and practice communities including presenting and publishing work. It is anticipated that this project will also result in a variety of outputs including 3-4 journal articles, evidence to action briefs and recommendations.

As a part of this project based PhD you will be involved in research that will inform important national strategies by identifying when, where and how prevention and early intervention services can be targeted. 

Where you’ll be based

The project is supervised by researchers from the Australian Centre for Child Protection (ACCP). The ACCP is Australia's premier research centre for the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The ACCP has led and participated in more than 175 projects in the field of child welfare and the prevention of child abuse and neglect across states and territories, and nationally. The ACCP is also one of the University of South Australia's leading research centres acclaimed for driving innovation in child protection research and its ability to push policy into practice. In its aim to improve access and engagement with much needed services for infants and families who are facing adversity, the project directly aligns with the Centres' mission to improve the lives of vulnerable children. This research also sits underneath a broader ARC Discovery project with a team of researchers across three universities. 

The supervisory team includes three Australian Centre for Child Protection researchers. The principal supervisor is A/Prof Melissa O'Donnell, and co-supervisors Dr Miriam Maclean and Dr Olivia Octoman.

Supervisory team

Financial Support 

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses. Additionally, a living allowance scholarship of $32,500 per annum is available to Australian and New Zealand citizens, and permanent residents of Australia, including permanent humanitarian visa holders.  Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicants will be eligible to receive an increased stipend rate of $46,653 per annum (2023 rates). A fee-offset or waiver for the standard term of the program is also included.  For full terms and benefits of the scholarship please refer to our scholarship information. International applicants are not invited to apply at this time.

Eligibility and Selection 

This project is open to applications from Australian or New Zealand citizens, and Australian permanent residents.

All applications that meet the eligibility and selection criteria will be considered for this project. A merit selection process will be used to determine the successful candidate.

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time and to be based at our City East Campus in the east of Adelaide. 

Essential Dates 

Applicants are expected to start in a timely fashion upon receipt of an offer.  Extended deferral periods are not available. Applications close on Friday, 8th of December.

How to apply:

Applications must be lodged online, please note UniSA does not accept applications via email.

For further support see our step-by-step guide on how to apply , or contact the Graduate Research team on +61 8 8302 5880, option 1 or email us at You will receive a response within one working day.

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